This story first appeared in Design Online in February 2015.
PETA COLLETT’S observation of human behaviour blends with her observation of the minute details of nature to form an innate understanding of what makes someone tick and what it is they need.
Design is at the core of her being, intertwined with resilience and a love of learning. Her career spans contemporary fashion and bridal couture when she started hand painting on fabric, to surface pattern design and millinery. She is one of the first rural women in Victoria, Australia to develop a fashion website and is a successful author with her first book, …And Flourish, available in 20 countries. The book, about Collett’s journey of overcoming personal challenges, first sold internationally three months after its launch in the USA.
Collett works from her rural home near Red Cliffs and Ouyen in north-west Victoria. She has lived in the region for more than 20 years and is used to the long drive to Melbourne which she does often. “I’d rather drive five-and-a half hours than get a plane,” she says. “My husband can’t understand that because he is always driving but I enjoy that thinking space. When you drive you see so much more. You see that little old stone church or that beautiful tree with purple flowers.” It’s these details which she files in her memory during the long drives and retrieves at a later date when developing sketch designs.
Collett has always been a “country girl”. After growing up in Gippsland in south-east Victoria, she moved to Melbourne in her early 20’s and then went to Perth to train in colour analysis and theory. This course laid the foundation for her career. But it’s the inspiration she gets from those long drives, the red desert sands near Red Cliffs and the lush underwater seascape and colour combinations of the Great Barrier Reef which Collett develops into wallpaper and textile patterns. Her detailed sketches of the environment and its natural colour combinations have resulted in an enviable collection of rolls of original drawings and a handy reference file. “I pull them out when I need them and when I’m ready to work on something else,” she says.
Collett then reviews the designs and colour combinations and refines the designs by hand. She then creates pattern repeats using a computer program. “In my head I have probably worked out three seasons ahead which sounds a lot but is not really.” Collett has always travelled for inspiration but it is only in the last couple of years that she has begun to finetune what she is best at. Her work is unique and intuitive and she strives to keep it that way.
“Australica evolved out of a conversation with a friend who had lived in Australia,” Collett says of her new range of wallpapers and co-ordinating cushion collection which she will launch at Decor + Design in Melbourne this July. Vibrant and unique, the range encapsulates what she says she is best at. Her love of colour, pattern, print, textiles and paper is “rolled in together.” The artwork is defined by line work in “bold black texta” (felt-tip marker) and a blend of chalk pastels and colour pencils.
“I worked flat out there for a while just drawing up ideas,” she says. “I love getting my hands dirty on a big piece of paper and I’m not afraid to use colour or clash it.”
There are several colourways in the Australica range including vivid bold blues and softer pastels which will be revealed at the trade fair. Collett also looks to Pantone colours for inspiration while the mix of bold patterns are inspired by the vivid colours of the Great Barrier Reef and the wildlife throughout Port Douglas along the tropical north Queensland coast. As she travelled through the region, tourists often said that it was these things about the Australian environment that make it an exotic location.
“We are really quite exotic in colour and landscape so it’s really about how you put that together,” she explains. “If you go somewhere in the outback you are really looking at the exotic colour, that sunset and red dirt. And you see that cactus out in the middle of the desert which has that really vibrant yellow flower on it.”
Australica is inspired by the Australian lifestyle which, for Collett, represents freedom and independence and incorporates the landscape, particularly the exotic and the lush side of Australia. “It’s inspired by living in a green environment and inspired by listening to what people say,” she explains. When conversations turn to lifestyle, she has noticed that when people talk about what they need, it usually has something to do with getting back to nature. When she meets new people, the first thing they want to know is how large the farm is and if it’s green. It is. But the question is an automatic response following the worst of the recent Australian drought conditions.
“I listened to people say, ‘Yes one day we’ll have that piece of land with a house and a picket fence,’” she explains. “It’s all about green space and it symbolises that place of peace, that quiet place where you can go and click off.” She says Australica wallpapers can be used as feature walls in an apartment or restaurant as a reminder of where you want to go.
“I think people whether it’s conscious or unconscious, always look for those things to surround themselves with that motivate and inspire them. I know I do.”
Collett only recently framed up a panel of Australica Lush. Set in a black frame, she says the individual green leaf pattern looks vibrant on a black rustic wall. She is observant of minute details so the design picks up on the variation of colour and detail found in a hibiscus leaf and brings the flat plane to life. The hibiscus flower and leaf are the basis of the Australica collection while the graduation of colour in the Tropical Delight wallpaper is inspired by the sunset.
As a business woman, teacher and leader in her community, Collett has created pathways for young local women interested in fashion design through a short course scholarship she created and her relationship with the Whitehouse Institute in Melbourne. She also sat on the Sunraysia Student Excellence Awards for four years.
“I know what it is like for young people when they go to a city to study. They don’t know anybody and they’re not connected. I know what it’s like to have that lack of support and I hate seeing young people flounder because it is a waste of talent,” she says.
Collett’s life-long love of design has nurtured her creative independence and inspiration. With each desire to learn a new skill, she has either enrolled in courses or simply taught herself through trial and error. She calls these her ‘apprenticeships’ and she is not finished yet. In addition to her business, Peta Collett Designs and Styling, and her community involvement, she is also studying to be a qualified counsellor. She sees both disciplines as a drawing out process that requires working with people to find out what they need. They require resilience and forward thinking and the ability to move and adapt quickly – traits which Collett has in abundance.
“It’s not even a conscious thing,” she says. “It becomes so natural to build on and move forward and do something different.”